Science Reveals: How Does a Breakup Impact Your Sense of Control?

Man Woman Relationship Break Up

After a breakup, people feel less in control. But don’t worry, it is only temporary.

The research examined how people’s feelings of control changed following separation, divorce, or the death of a spouse.

According to a recent investigation of individuals who experienced various kinds of relationship loss, these events were associated with different patterns of short- and long-term sense of control after the loss. Eva Asselmann of HMU Health and Medical University in Potsdam, Germany, and Jule Specht of Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, recently published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

According to previous research, a higher reported feeling of personal control over one’s life is linked to improved health and well-being. Romantic relationships and perceptions of control are strongly related; for instance, research points to a connection between perceptions of control and higher levels of relationship satisfaction. The connection between the end of a relationship and changes in perceived control, however, is less well understood.

Asselmann and Specht examined data from three time points in a multi-decade study of German households to shed new light. Specifically, they evaluated changes in perceived control for 1,235 individuals who suffered separation from their partner, 423 who divorced, and 437 whose partners passed away using annual questionnaire results from 1994, 1995, and 1996.

Statistical analysis of the questionnaire results suggests that, overall, people who experienced separation from their partner experienced a drop in perceived control in the first year after separation, but followed by a gradual increase in later years. After separation, women were more likely than men to have a decline in their sense of control, while younger people had an increased sense of control compared to older people.

People whose partners passed away had an overall increase in perceived control during the first year post-loss, followed by a continued boost in perceived control compared to the period before the death. However, compared to older people, younger people experienced more detrimental effects of partner death on their sense of control.

The analysis found no links between divorce and perceived control.

The researchers call for future investigations to track people who have not yet experienced relationship loss and evaluate changes in perceived control when the loss occurs. They also call for research into the mechanisms that underlie post-loss changes in perceived control.

The authors add: “Our findings suggest that people sometimes grow from stressful experiences – at least regarding specific personality characteristics. In the years after losing a romantic partner, participants in our study became increasingly convinced of their ability to influence their life and future by their own behavior. Their experience enabled them to deal with adversity and manage their life independently, which allowed them to grow.”

Reference: “Personality growth after relationship losses: Changes of perceived control in the years around separation, divorce, and the death of a partner” by Eva Asselmann and Jule Specht, 3 August 2022, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0268598


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  • We needed "scientists" to research this topic? Just ask your grandma. The ancient Jews of Israel used to say: people make plans and G-d laughs. Another source of information for free would be the Buddha. Control is a human illusion.


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